Flu season can be miserable for everyone. Parents have to deal with sick kids at home. Employers have to arrange coverage for employees taking sick time. Doctors’ offices are hard to get into for an appointment.
So, who should get flu shots? How much could it cost? Which shots are available where? How can an FSA or HSA help?
Many people are eligible for low- to no-cost vaccinations, including flu shots. For those who have to contribute to the cost, flu shots are a qualified expense under Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
How deadly is the flu?
There was a time when “the flu” was widely considered deadly. Modern medicine, especially the invention of vaccinations, has dramatically lessened the risk. However, tens of thousands of Americans die each year from flu or its complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 21,000 people died of flu disease burden in the U.S. during the 2022-2023 flu season.
What’s new for the current flu season?
Several things will be different for the 2023-2024 flu season:
- The composition of flu vaccines has been updated for all types, including egg-based and cell- or recombinant-based vaccines.
- People with an egg allergy may now get any vaccine (egg-based or non-egg-based) that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health status. Beginning with the current flu season, it is no longer recommended that they take any special precautions beyond those associated with receiving any vaccine, regardless of the severity of previous reactions.
- Vaccine manufacturers expect to supply the U.S. with up to 170 million doses of influenza vaccines for the 2023-2024 season.
Who should get flu shots?
The CDC encourages yearly flu shots for everyone over six months old. Those who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications include:
- Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- Persons in racial and ethnic minority groups
People with the following medical conditions should also seriously consider flu shots:
- Blood disorders
- Chronic lung disease
- Heart disease
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
- People younger than 19 who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People with extreme obesity
- Weakened immune systems due to disease or medication
Remember that there are different ways to administer flu protection and mitigation efforts. For example, those who are pregnant or have certain chronic health conditions should not get certain types of the vaccine. It’s important to consult your family doctor on the right option.
When should you get a flu shot?
Many providers recommend getting the flu shot in September or October because it may take about two weeks before the vaccination starts to protect against the virus(es). This is especially true for populations at higher risk. However, November or December is not too late. The CDC reports that U.S. flu activity typically peaks in February, and activity can continue into May.
How much do flu shots cost?
Flu shots are almost always available from primary care physicians, pharmacies, urgent care facilities, and major retailers like Costco and Walmart. If more help is needed, check out this flu shot locator.
For 2023-2024, flu shots without insurance generally cost between $20 and $70 at retailers like Costco, Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS. However, most healthcare plans cover at least part of flu shot costs. If cost-sharing is required, an FSA or HSA can help you meet the expense using pre-tax dollars. With an account-linked benefits debit card, you can pay the expense directly from your account without filing a claim and waiting for reimbursement.
Don’t overlook the options you may have for free flu shots. Many employers and schools offer them. Some local health departments and healthcare providers set up free flu shot clinics, especially in lower-income areas.
How does flu season impact the economy?
In an average year, many people get sick from the flu, and a significant number will die as a direct result. That is concern enough, but the effects are farther-reaching. The U.S. economy takes a hit from flu season as well. According to the CDC, influenza costs the U.S. around $10.4 billion yearly for adult hospitalizations and outpatient visits alone. Employees who have to take time off for personal illness or to care for a sick family member cost employers millions in lost productivity. Employees who don’t receive paid sick leave lose millions in wages.